What If VisiCalc Had Been Patented?

from the innovation dept

Dan Bricklin, the creator of the first spreadsheet program, VisiCalc, has been mentioned in a number of articles recently concerning the issue of software patents, and he's now speaking up about the basic question of what would have happened if he'd been able to patent VisiCalc. He's responding to someone who suggests that the lack of a patent on VisiCalc slowed innovation by making everyone just copy VisiCalc. Bricklin responds smartly (of course) by pointing out that this wasn't true at all. First, plenty of others tried to come up with other, completely different systems to replace spreadsheets -- and none caught on. At the same time, Lotus and Microsoft took what Bricklin (and others) did early on and made them even better and more useful for the market. It all goes back to the same thing we've spoken about in the past. There's a big difference between invention and innovation -- and it's the innovation that helps the economy. However, patents protect invention, not innovation. While a lack of patents may have kept some money out of Bricklin's pockets, it did allow for more focused work on making the spreadsheet better for the market -- and in the end that helped the economy much more, by letting competition and the market drive innovation, rather than a government granted monopoly.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Aug 2005 @ 12:56pm

    Tracked down some spreadsheet alternatives.

    I tracked down some of those competing systems for myself. From Dan Bricklin's article:
    We even tried one at Software Arts with TK!Solver, and Lotus tried Improv. Then there was T-Maker, Javelin, etc., etc.
    TK Solver is still out there. A successor to Improv is Quantrix. You can find a Javelin Software Wikipedia reference, too. Anyone know of a product with self-documentation features similar to the old Javelin DOS product? Did Oracle buy it up to produce something similar later?

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